Portland tests camera-activated crosswalk signals

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PORTLAND — New crossing signals that use video cameras to detect pedestrians are being tested at two city intersections.

The systems being tested at the Commercial-Franklin street and Park-Deering avenue intersections are designed to make it safer for pedestrians, especially the visually impaired, to cross the street.

The signals use stereo cameras to detect when a pedestrian is waiting at the curb.

The cameras produce three-dimensional photographs by using two lenses. They resemble the head of the lead robot in the film, “Wall-E.”

According to Migma Systems, the Massachusetts company that installed the system, the cameras can detect pedestrians day and night and in all weather conditions.

The signals will either automatically activate a crossing signal, or activate a “tone locator” to make it easier for walkers to find the crosswalk button.

Public Services Director Michael Bobinsky said the intersections were chosen based on their pedestrian and vehicle activity.

The Park-Deering avenue intersection was picked based on its proximity to the Iris Network, which works with the visually impaired, he said.

City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said in a press release that the cameras will be tested for 18 months. They will not interact with crossing signals during the first six months, which will be used to collect information to ensure the system’s accuracy, Clegg said.

Bobinsky said it will then be decided if the cameras will automatically activate the crossing signals or tone locators.

The cameras, however, have the potential to create headaches for drivers, who already express frustrations when pedestrians push the crosswalk button and cross without waiting for the light, leaving an intersection at a standstill while the light runs its course.

Bobinsky said he hopes the technology will make intersections more efficient.

“At this point I am not anticipating traffic conflicts here,” he said in an e-mail. “Once the equipment is running we will monitor the results and operational impacts for both pedestrians and autos/transit vehicles.”

Clegg said the cameras do not record images and the city will be able to keep the equipment once the test is complete.

Bo Ling, chief executive of Migma Systems, referred questions about the type of data the cameras record to the Federal Highway Administration, which did not respond.

Portland is one of six communities in the nationwide test. The demonstration grants funding the project are part of the federal Intelligent Vehicle Initiative Program.

Bobinsky said there will be no city money spent on the project.

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net

Sidebar Elements

One of five stereo cameras that recognize, but do not record, three-dimensional images of pedestrians at Portland’s Commercial-Franklin street intersection. Portland is one of six communities conducting federally funded tests of the new crosswalk technology.

Pedestrians on Monday cross against the crosswalk signal in Portland’s Commercial-Franklin Street intersection, which was recently equiped with cameras that detect walkers. The cameras will be operational in six months.